HC Deb 10 August 1909 vol 9 cc245-6

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will state the result of the inquiries into the cause of the four suicides at Colchester during the months of June and July, 1909?

Mr. H. C. LEA

asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the evidence given at the inquest held last Monday at Colchester Garrison Hospital on the death of a private soldier in the Bedford Regiment, who committed suicide as a result of brooding over his sentence of punishment picquet by his commanding officer, although he had himself committed no offence; whether the punishment of a whole company on account of one man in that company getting drunk is authorised by military regulations; and, if not, why has the officer commanding the Bedford Regiment been allowed to pursue this system of punishment?


I would like to point out, first, that my reply to the question put on the 29th ultimo referred to the two cases of suicide which occurred on the 24th ultimo, and that special inquiries have been made accordingly into those two cases only. As regards the case of the colour-sergeant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, no special circumstances affecting it have been brought to light by the inquiry. As regards the case in the Bedford Regiment, there is no reason to doubt that the cause of suicide was, as found by the jury, one of unsound mind. It has been ascertained that while serving in India the man had been struck on the head by natives, and had on two previous occasions threatened to commit suicide. There has lately been a slight outbreak of drunkenness in this battalion, to check which the commanding officer instituted a system of picquets from companies in proportion to the number of cases of drunkenness in the various companies. This practice has been stopped, as being contrary to Regulations. There is no reason to connect this man's suicide with any disciplinary action that may have been taken in the battalion, as he had not been warned for a picquet. I may observe that there was no question of his proficiency pay being affected by not being able to keep up with his battalion on parade. As regards the funeral, the brigadier-general considered it was expedient to avoid the publicity of a burial with military honours, but, in deference to the wishes of the officer commanding King's Royal Rifle Corps, withdrew his objection. The officer commanding Bedford Regiment considered that the matter was left to his discretion, and adhered to the brigadier-general's original instructions.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the man belonging to the Bedfordshire Regiment bore an exceedingly good character, and had two medals and 17 years' service; why should he have been punished for the wrong done by another man?


He was not punished; he had not been warned to go on picquet duty.

Captain FABER

Is not the Bedford Regiment a sober regiment?


The regiment has just come home from India, and these cases of drunkenness are far too frequent.


Has the hon. Gentleman read the evidence at the inquest and the remarks of the coroner?


Yes; very carefully.